by Jack Breibart
secretary of the Reform Party charged April 10 that the Pat Buchanan presidential campaign is "acting like school yard bullies" in its attempt to "take over" the party.
Californian and long-time national party leader Jim Mangia told the American Reporter in a telephone interview that Buchanan's brigades were using "undemocratic" and "unprincipled" tactics to gain control of state organizations. "They're Nixonian," Mangia said.
The rift between the Buchanan campaign and party leaders such as Mangia has become serious enough that acting party chairman Pat Choate called for a peace session between the factions to take place last week.
Mangia, who is also outspoken in his opposition to Buchanan's "right-wing ideology," said this meeting was cancelled but another one could take place in a couple of weeks.
Previous meetings did not smooth things out, Mangia indicated.
Attempts to reach Buchanan headquarters for reaction to Mangia's comments were not successful. In a recent e-mail to the American Reporter, Charlie McKinney, Buchanan's deputy political director wrote: "We do not take anything for granted in the race for the nomination. We fight for every delegate that is at stake to ensure a solid victory and a united convention."
Buchanan has frequently said that the battles within the party will be solved by convention time and everybody will be in step "like the Rockettes."
The unhappiness of Mangia and other "established leaders and long-time members of the party" could be a problem in what appeared to be Buchanan's clear shot at the party's presidential nomination.
Buchanan left the Republican party late last year to begin his pursuit of the Reform nomination and its plum of $12.5 million in federal funds.
No major national figure has surfaced to contest Buchanan, and time is running out. A number of candidates have announced for the race, but only John Hagelin, who ran on the Natural Law Party ticket in 1996, appears to be seriously seeking ballot access around the country.
Hagelin is running as a coalition candidate for the Natural Law, Green and Reform party nominations.
Mangia organized a draft Ross Perot movement but concedes that "this is unlikely to happen."
Although he said "the window is small," Mangia is still hopeful that he and his allies can convince someone of prominence to contest Buchanan.
An example of the bitter fight taking place at the state level came in Wisconsin last weekend.
A squabble between Buchanan backers and the state party leadership resulted in two sets of officers and two sets of delegates to the national convention, scheduled for August 10-13 in Long Beach, Calif.
The breakaway Buchanan group elected its own officers, including a chairman, Eric Pulley, who told the Milwaukee Journal it was his first day in politics. "I'm loving it," he said.
Buchanan was scheduled to speak to the convention, but ended up meeting only with his group of backers.
Similiar state party battles have taken place in New Hampshire and Georgia and are expected in other states. The Minnesota Reform Party, the base for Jesse Ventura's race to become governor of Minnesota, recently disaffiliated itself from the national Reform Party and changed its name to the Independence Party.
On Saturday, a new Minnesota Reform party was born with Buchanan forces in charge.
The Reform Party constitution calls for its presidential candidate to be elected by a national vote, but this national balloting can be overturned by two-thirds of the delegates at the convention.
"We believe that we will win the national ballot, but ... we do not take that for granted," McKinney, Buchanan's campaign aide, said in his e-mail.
The seating of the delegates at the convention could make for a "very interesting" session, Mangia said.
new rift in the often fractious young party comes only two weeks after a federal judge in Lynchburg, Va., settled one long-simmering dispute.
Acting on two conflicting lawsuits, Judge Norman Moon ruled that a meeting of the Reform Party national committee had legitimately ousted national party chairman Jack Gargan and treasurer Ronn Young and installed Choate as the temporary chairman.
The judge's decision was regarded as a victory for Buchanan. Choate had been a member of Buchanan's campaign team and had been instrumental in convincing the former television commentator and Ronald Reagan aide to leave the GOP. Choate resigned his campaign position to become chairman.
Choate, however, ran into a wall of opposition on the 11-person executive committee on his first attempt to push through a Buchanan campaign proposal -- moving the national convention from Long Beach to Opryland outside of Nashville.
The executive committee fresh from its battle with Gargan over the convention site was not budging again. The vote against Choate, who abstained, was 5-1. Three members of the committee, holders from the Gargan regime, were "absent" from the telephone conference call.
The Buchananites and Choate said the Tennessee site offered more rooms, better facilities, more time to set up and better protection from demonstrators. The Buchanan campaign was so eager for the switch that it offered to pay off the $93,000 in contractual obligations with Long Beach hotels.
Choate told the Associated Press after the meeting, "The Buchanans are disappointed, but they accept the executive committee's decision."
Mangia said he thought the Buchananites wanted a "Bible Belt setting" for the convention so that he could have a more receptive audience for his conservative philosophy.
"I have nothing against the Bible Belt," said Mangia. "But I prefer the diversity of California."
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